From beginning to end, the Bible offers an overarching story of the eternal purpose and destiny of the universe and our existence. In matters of theology, eschatology (es-ka-tal-oh-gee) is the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and humankind. Jesus plays an essential role in eschatology, and for those who are united with Christ through faith and in life, his role establishes a foundation for peace and hope.
The Pew Research Center polled a sample of Americans, and 39% believe we are "living in the end times." What does it mean to live in the end times? For some, the answer points to the activity of God and for others, the answer points to our capacity to annihilate ourselves. One does not need to believe in God to believe that the end of humanity is possible. People were also asked if they believed Jesus would return to earth in their lifetimes. Here are the results from self-identified Christians:
16% - Yes, Jesus will or may return in my lifetime.
37% - Not sure if Jesus will return in my lifetime.
25% - No, Jesus will definitely not, or probably not, return in my lifetime.
22% - Jesus will not return to earth, or I do not believe in Jesus.*
*Yes, some people identify as Christians who do not believe he is the Son of God or the One who atoned for sin. The cross and the resurrection aren't necessary. To be a Christian is to pursue a good and moral life based on the teachings of the Bible.
In Matthew 24, Jesus' statements fit into a larger collection of scriptures that relate to the end times. These scriptures include other gospels, some prophets, Daniel, letters like Thessalonians, and Revelation. These scriptures have been studied for centuries, and different timelines and events have been offered and debated.
Sunday's sermon was offered as an end-times tour. It was like a train ride with starting and ending stations. Along the way, we stopped to observe end-times-scenes from scripture that can not be dismissed. Here is the itinerary:
The Begining of the End: Peace - An honest consideration of end times must include acknowledging and accepting a coming judgment. The good news is that all who are in union with Christ can live in peace. Those who are part of the Bride of Christ (the Church) will experience mercy in coming trials, tribulations, and judgment. The Holy Spirit assures of this in 2 Thes 1:5-7.
Stop 1: Signs of the Times - Jesus briefly described the end times in Matthew 24:1-35. Themes and images from the Book of Daniel are present. And though it wasn't written yet, Jesus' words indicate what will be revealed in the Book of Revelation. Jesus foretells many necessary truths that will precede his coming again. The important thing for us to know is in Mt 24:13-14: We are to endure to the end, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.
Stop 2: The Antichrist and False Prophet - Revelation 13 unveils Satan's counterfeit Messiah, the Antichrist, who will rise to power during a great Tribulation. The Antichrist will have a supporting agent, a false prophet, who will be a miracle worker who directs people to worship the Antichrist. Scripture warns us not to fall prey to lies about peace in the face of global crisis. No, the trumpet will announce the coming of Jesus, who is Truth personified. Teach your children and grandchildren to bow their knees to one name, the name of Jesus. (Mt 24:30-31; Phil 2:9-11)
Stop 3: The Four Horsemen - The drama of Matthew 24 will be driven by the Four Horsemen described in Rev 6:1-8. The white, red, black, and pale horses represent the Antichrist, destruction and war, famine, and death.
Stop 4: Persecution - In the last days, the Church will see increasing persecution, and no genuine Christian is exempt. The only way to escape persecution is to compromise by conforming to the world's authority. Jesus said:
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.- (Mt 5:10-11)
The End of the Line: Hope - Our days are becoming darker. God’s Word gives us hope that when Jesus comes again, his entrance will open the door to the dawn of a new day. On that day, all will behold his bright and blinding glory. For some, His glory will result in judgment, and for others, the mercy of salvation. In Titus 2:11-4, the Holy Spirit assures us to live in the hope of Christ's return. Hope purifies, encourages, unifies, challenges, stabilizes, and comforts us.
We started our journey in peace and ended our journey in hope. This is where our union with Christ plants our feet, anchors our minds, and secures our hearts. Let us not fear the end of days. Instead, let us tell others where peace and hope are truly found.